Russia suggests "mechanism" to enforce UN plan for Syria

Other News Materials 31 May 2012 04:51 (UTC +04:00)

Russia might support new ways to pressure Syria's government and opposition to implement a UN-brokered truce, a Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday, arguing that a United Nations team in the country seems unable to stop the fighting, dpa reported.

"It is possible that we are going to have to look at how the UN monitors are working together and think about additional means of getting the plan of (former UN secretary general Kofi) Annan implemented," said Gennady Gatilov, the vice foreign minister.

The additional measures could include "the deployment of forces to cities and towns in Syria where the situation is especially hot," the Interfax news agency quoted Gatilov as saying.

At UN headquarters in New York, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said there were "very few positive elements" in a briefing on the situation in Syria by Jean Marie Guehenno, Annan's deputy, on the UN envoy's talks Monday in Damascus with Syrian President Bashir al-Assad.

"We strongly support the work of UN observers in Syria and want to safeguard their security and very important work," Churkin said. "But nobody is implementing Annan's plan."

He said that the armed opposition has become better equipped from an illegal flow of weapons into Syria.

"We do have now unity in the Security Council, and we do need to act," Churkin said, reflecting Moscow's shift in position to blame both sides in the conflict rather than previously just the opposition.

Russia is Damascus' main ally in the Security Council.

Gatilov's remarks came two days after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov broke with customary Kremlin public support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict, and said that both the opposition and the regime were responsible for the continuing violence.

Russia opposes any foreign military intervention in Syria but would consider "a wide international discussion" on steps the international community might take to force Syria's warring sides to stop fighting and adhere to the terms of the Annan plan, Gatilov said.

The news came as a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would attempt to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to step up pressure on Damascus to negotiate a solution for the country. The newly inaugurated Putin is scheduled to visit Friday in Berlin and Paris.

Unlike French President Francois Hollande, who has said he would "not rule out" military intervention in Syria, Germany would remain focused on diplomacy, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Martin Schaefer, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Berlin, said: "There are no grounds, in the German view, to speculate about military options."

"The chancellor will certainly attempt to convince the Russian side to focus, as we do, on the political process," Seibert told reporters in Berlin.

He said the UN Security Council needed to adopt the "right resolutions" against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Another senior Russian diplomat on Wednesday criticized Tuesday's expulsions of Syrian ambassadors by several Western governments as "counterproductive."

"The expulsion of Syrian ambassadors from the capitals of leading Western countries we consider to be a counterproductive step," said Aleksandr Lukashevich, the Russian Foreign Ministry's senior spokesman.

"These extremely important channels - by which it is possible to exchange opinions and to coordinate efforts to influence the government of Syria ... and to effect the implementation of Kofi Annan's ceasefire plan - have now been closed," Lukashevich said, according to an Interfax news agency report.

Russia is a longtime supporter of the al-Assad regime and its major arms supplier. The Kremlin in recent months has alleged Western nations are arming the Syrian opposition and has blamed them for most violence in the country, while avoiding serious criticism of as-Assad.

Russia's rhetorical shift away from uncritical support of the al-Assad regime followed a weekend massacre in the central area of Houla, where at least 108 people were killed.